Gravel pits that have been excavated in the traditional fashion are relatively easy to ‘read’. Plateaux, bars and islands, flooded trees and gullies all attract fish and fish attract pike. However, locating pike is not all about finding feeding pike and I would go as far as to suggest that you’ll do much better if you can locate pike that are not actively feeding. Pike at rest are pike that are comfortable and secure (because they rest only where they feel safe) and if you approach them in the right way they are every bit as catchable as pike that are striking through roach shoals.

Pike that are patrolling the margins of islands, for example, are not necessarily actively feeding, they could be opportunist feeders and might thereby snap up a well-positioned bait. What is "well positioned"? One that is just the right distance from the margin and at the correct depth, although that is easier to write than to find out! For starters, the distance you position your bait from the margin should depend upon the depth of water and the rate of drop-away. Steeply shelving islands are likely to have deeper water close in than gently sloping islands, and what you are looking for is water between 3 and 10 feet. As important as the depth is, it is actually of greater importance to gauge the depth as a ratio of the average depth of the water in the near-vicinity. If, for example, the gulley between the islands you are fishing to is 18 feet deep you should begin your exploratory fishing by placing your bait in around 10 feet of water. If the gulley is 8 to 10 feet deep fish your bait around 4 feet. It won’t be long before you find out if you’ve got it right - certainly, don’t fish through a dawn and the next few hours without a run before you begin to experiment.

I am a great believer in fishing alongside islands and bars and of making good use of plateaux and drop-offs. Nonetheless, it’s a good policy to have one bait somewhere close to the middle of the gulley if the water there is up to 12 feet in depth. Open water of this depth will attract nomadic pike at any time and such areas are not uncommonly found to be hotspots. One very special area not often, and certainly not always, found in gravel pits is a bay formed at the confluence of a number of gulleys. Pike patrolling the gulleys and islands automatically find themselves meeting up in the bay and often hang around there for some time before beginning their next patrol route (or perhaps while they’re planning it!)

In these areas, a bait placed centrally in the bay is as good as anywhere though I would always cast another to a likely ‘point’ swim. It is always good policy to move one bait around the area to act as a ‘fine tuner’ for the days when the rules get broken. Constant experimentation teaches you a lot over a seasons fishing and this ‘loose’ bait may yield the unexpected. That is not to say the unexpected will be an unknown monster, but more likely the experimental rod may yield a new taking area or uncover a new-formed hotspot.

It is important to differentiate between ‘taking spots’ and ‘hotspots’ partly for long term planning (i.e. taking spots are more likely to respond to short term pressure than hotspots, which take a lot more angling pressure to cause their demise) though more immediately because taking spots are usually more numerous, widely placed and indicative of pike feeding on the move. Apart from the exceptional pike that happens to snap up a bait as it is cast in (and by chance is passing through the area) taking spots hold good for pike after pike. It is for this reason that I emphasise the value in fine-tuning each and every swim you visit to find as many of these spots as possible. The location of taking spots can be very critical indeed, to within a few inches in any direction so regular casting, trial and error fishing, and adjustments really do pay off. To repeat my earlier recommendation, always put a bait in the spot that produced the last pike; use other rod(s) to search the swim.

I am not prepared to discuss summer pike fishing these days because I am convinced beyond persuasion that it damages (often irreparably) pike stocks so I need to emphasise that I am discussing pike location between the months October through March.

October water temperatures may still be close to summer levels and this should ensure that pike are active. It could even ensure that hotspots have not yet formed (though if and when they do it’s likely they will be found in the same areas as previously discovered in past seasons) though patterns will quickly emerge. In the days when I summer pike fished extensively I found hotspots in June and July which dispersed by November, yet others that developed as the winter months approached and which became hotter as the water got colder. Such patterns and vagaries are not always easy to understand.

Pike, like so many creatures, are poikilothermic (which means their body temperature is influenced by the temperature of their environment) and are not ‘cold-blooded’. Pike tend to be more active at higher water temperatures and are able to digest their food more quickly (and probably more efficiently) than when the water temperature is low. The efficiency/comfort limits for pike fall within the water temperature range 8º and 20ºc so it follows naturally that they will be more active, probably more willing to feed, and effective in water temperatures in the top one third of this range. Water temperatures between the months October through March usually fall within the range 16ºc and 6ºc with the potential for a blip to lower ranges through January and February. Accordingly, we expect pike to respond in a variety of ways ranging between highly active to almost comatose.

It also falls within these months that pike will be heading for their spawning sites and, in warmer years, actually spawning. (In southern counties of the UK pike spawned in some waters in late February this year as an example). This fact alone adds an interesting diversion!

Whether they are actively hunting, cruising gently with an eye open for food, or resting up, the open fringes of reed beds are reliable taking areas. So too is the vicinity of inlets where water turbulence occurs; the area around any man-made structure built in to the water; beneath electricity pylons (beware the use of carbon rods!), and bays close to car parks (!). And anything which restricts water flow, for example a man made groyne, a narrowing of the water course, a lock, a pumping station or a stretch of shallow water following, or preceding deeper water.

You may have noticed that whilst I have discussed ‘traditional’ features that are always worth fishing (in gravel pits, bars and gulleys - in rivers, shallows and lock gates - in reservoirs, pumping stations) I have put some emphasis on ‘reading’ the mind of the pike. This does not come easily and may prove impossible for some anglers though it is at the very centre of good, consistent fishing. Students of biology, animal psychology and climatology will normally have the edge over the bedchair bound pike angler and this is the very point that I hope to have put across in this feature. Some anglers are seen to be ‘natural anglers’, people who catch where ever they are. Such anglers may not realise it but they too are students of fish psychology.

Of course, as important as understanding the value of depth changes, of feeding times, of weather influences and of tackle appropriate to the task, is so too the absolute imperative of having good bait. We’ll take a look at this aspect another time.